Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor

NCNA above the law of Hong Kong

Last week the Secretary for Justice of the Hong Kong Special Administration Region (SAR) Government, Miss Elsie Leung, decided against prosecuting the New China News Agency (NCNA) Hong Kong Branch for violating the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance. The disturbing move has aroused concern that the NCNA, which is the embodiment of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Hong Kong, is above the law.

Last month the Privacy Commissioner, Mr Stephen Lau, referred eight cases to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution. Two cases, including one complaint from me, were related to the NCNA.

In December 1996 when the Personal Data Ordinance was enacted, local people have the right to write to organisations asking to see files on them in order to correct mistakes about their personal particulars. Since the NCNA was well known for collecting intelligence and information about local activists, it was widely believed that they held files on members of the pro-democracy movement.

Immediately after the ordinance came into force, I wrote to the then NCNA director Mr Zhou Nan asking to see their file on me. Under the ordinance, NCNA must reply within 40 days. The agency took 10 months before they told me they had no file on me.

The Privacy Commissioner, who is responsible for enforcing the ordinance, said he respected the Secretary for Justice's decision but maintained NCNA had broken the law. The episode has again focused attention on the role of the NCNA and on whether the rule of law applies to everyone in Hong Kong except NCNA.

Under British colonial rule, NCNA was the de facto Chinese embassy, masquerading as a news agency. Under the Chinese Government's concept of "One country, two systems" Hong Kong enjoys "high degree of autonomy" and is governed according to the Basic Law. However there is no mention of the CCP is outside the reach of Hong Kong laws.

The director of NCNA is the general secretary of the Hong Kong Macau Work Committee, which is the name of the CCP Hong Kong branch. One of the main functions of the Work Committee is to provide party leadership for members and mainland-based organisations.

Even though Hong Kong is part of China, the role of the CCP is still a highly sensitive topic. Many local people want to know more but the mass media have been reluctant to report on the taboo subject. This is because many local people still have dark memories of the atrocities perpetrated by the CCP and thus harbour deep repugnance and mistrust.

The Chinese Government is aware of such sentiments and does not want to provoke them. The mass media understand Beijing's concerns and have for years deliberately played down coverage of the CCP. Many journalists have never even heard of the Work Committee.

The Secretary for Justice's decision not to prosecute NCNA was completely ignored by the television stations and most Chinese language daily newspapers. It would appear the CCP is still a no go area for many news organisations.

Last year when I met with the Chief Secretary for Administration, Mrs Anson Chan, I raised the role and functions of the NCNA in the SAR. With hundreds of staff, what exactly do they do?

Apart from the headquarters in Happy Valley which is immediately opposite to the Hong Kong Jockey Club, NCNA also has three sub-offices in Hong Kong island, Kowloon and the New Territories. These were set up in the 1980s to counter the British colonial administration and should have been disbanded after the Chinese takeover on 1 July 1997.

Last December, NCNA director Mr Jiang Enzhu was chosen as one of 36 Hong Kong delegates to the National People's Congress (NPC). He is also tipped to become the leader of the Hong Kong NPC delegation.

Such a prominent role for Mr Jiang does not sit well with the concept of "Hong Kong people running Hong Kong." Preferential treatment for the NCNA will only heighten the people's feeling of hostility and unease.

Emily Lau

1998 (c) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor